Throughout pregnancy, there tends to be a common misconception about birth — that the focus of labor prep should be physically focused. Believe it or not, birth is more mental than physical. Let me explain.
Mindset plays a huge role in your birth experience. Imagine you were training for a marathon. You wouldn’t just practice running over and over again while neglecting your nutrition, breathing, or conditioning, right? Well, childbirth is pretty similar.
Birth is More Mental than Physical
You may have created a birth plan and gone on your hospital tour, but are you mentally ready to give birth? Most moms who give birth unmedicated will likely agree that their ability to be mentally strong throughout their birth experience is what helped them through the process. The reason for this is that the more an expecting woman mentally prepares for the childbirth process, the better she can control and relax her mind. She understands what is normal, what to expect, how to advocate for herself, what not to do, and what her options are along the way.
The more mentally prepared she is for her birthing day, the more likely she is to have a favorable experience. However, labor and birth are unique and unpredictable events for everyone and true medical emergencies do happen. No matter how much a woman prepares, babies will determine how they want to be born. But if she has an uncomplicated pregnancy and labor, she can decrease her chances for unnecessary medical interventions and have a more favorable experience. By mentally preparing, she will be able to focus and calm her mind. And the more she can relax and calm her mind, the more her body can relax and open, enabling her labor to progress and potentially go faster. However, if she fights against her contractions, is unaware of what to expect, and is fearful of the pain of labor, this may lead to a longer labor and a less favorable birth experience.
Fear Tension Pain Cycle
In the 1920s, Grantly Dick-Read, a British obstetrician, described what is now known as the “Fear-Tension-Pain” cycle. He suggested that fear causes women to become tenser and that having more tension increases their pain. In turn, the increased pain she feels then causes her to become more fearful, and the cycle continues and strengthens. Dick-Read suggested stopping this cycle by:
- Reducing fear — educating women about what to expect during childbirth
- Reducing tension — promoting relaxation, which then reduces the pain
We’ve learned that childbirth is just as much mental as it is physical. By understanding the childbirth process and practicing the ability to relax your mind and body, you’re able to have a more enjoyable birth. But how can you better prepare mentally for labor? Below, you’ll find some practical ways that can help.
How to Mentally Prepare for Labor
Reading daily positive and empowering affirmations.
Using positive affirmations throughout pregnancy and birth is a great way to train your mind that your body is capable of giving birth! Some moms even find a benefit to reading positive birth stories from other moms. It gives them hope, empowerment, and the confidence they need to have that “I CAN DO THIS” feeling. If you’ve never used affirmations before, you can easily create your own by writing some on index cards. Or you can order pre-made and beautifully crafted cards like these.
Keep an open discussion with your partner or doctor.
Openly discuss with your partner or doctor, or midwife what type of support you need or would like to have during labor. Every person in the delivery room (or home for those having a home birth) must be a positive support person for you.
If gentle touch and massages help calm you down, let your partner know! Ask if they can be by your side to gently massage your back or shoulders throughout contractions. If having a doctor deliver your baby makes you feel more at ease, express this to your medical provider in advance. Having these little details figured out long before your due date can provide the emotional reassurance you need. It helps to know you will be loved and supported through birth the exact way that you need.
Incorporate forms of meditation into your daily routine.
Meditation can come in helpful while dealing with painful contractions during birth. If you’ve never practiced meditating before, there’s some apps and online courses that do an excellent job of teaching these types of techniques:
- Headspace – Guided meditation practices to calm your mind and reduce stress in just a few minutes each day via their app.
- Insight Timer – From mediation, yoga, sleep, and even live options, Insight Timer is another wonderful app to help you feel calm and relaxed throughout stressful situations.
- Hypnobirthing or Hypnobabies – Both of these are birthing methods that use self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques to help a woman feel physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared for childbirth. Their scripts and meditations reduce her awareness of fear, anxiety, and pain during childbirth.
Take a childbirth class and practice various breathing techniques to stay calm and minimize stress.
Lamaze is one of the most common childbirth courses and breathing techniques taught to help mothers cope with labor pains and stressors. Though there’s plenty of options out there, the idea is that a controlled breath can not only help you relax, but it can decrease the perception of pain. If you signed up for a birth class, comfort and breathing techniques are topics they should cover. If not, look into a different birth class or, more specifically, a Lamaze Class. You can ask your doctor’s office to find out if your hospital offers one of these classes for you.
Being physically prepared for birth can help you mentally prepare, too!
Understanding your body’s needs, signals, and stressors can be very beneficial to labor. You’ll be able to trust your own body’s instincts.
For instance, for some moms, laying down during contractions is uncomfortable. Some mamas may feel like getting medication will help them. Others may feel like a simple change in position can help them manage the pain. The point is that you know when your body is stressed out. You should fully trust in your decisions to help it.
The act of giving birth requires patience, strength, and focus beyond physical limitations. This is why birth is more mental than physical. How will you prepare?